WEHOville

‘Princes of Kings Road’ Imagines Reunion of Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra

Tue, Sep 22, 2015   By Bob Bishop    1 Comment

Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra, the most influential modernist architects of the 20th Century, put Los Angeles on the map of world design. They began by working as partners from the Schindler House on North Kings Road, a home that defined a completely new architectural language. When that relationship went awry after five years, they continued on individual paths, only to reunite many years later when they were assigned to share the same Los Angeles hospital room in a fluke of fate that sounds like it could only happen in Hollywood.

Actors Ray Xifo (left, playing Richard Neutra) and John Nielsen (playing Rudolph Schindler. (Photo courtesy of Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA).

Actors Ray Xifo (left, playing Richard Neutra) and John Nielsen (playing Rudolph Schindler. (Photo courtesy of Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA).

A new play, “The Princes of Kings Road,” imagines what might have happened in that room at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in 1953 as Schindler and Neutra, confined by their beds, were forced to hash out their differences, their legacies and their friendship after being estranged for 23 years. With the help of their nurse, they were finally able to reach a place of mutual respect and affection.

Schindler was being treated for cancer when Neutra was admitted after suffering a minor heart attack. Schindler would die shortly after the former college friends and business partners reconciled. Neutra passed away in 1970.
The three-character play, based on a true story, runs through Oct. 4. Written and directed by Tom Lazarus under the auspices of the Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA, the production is staged as a site-specific work in Neutra-designed offices that are now the Neutra Institute and Museum in Silver Lake. The play is performed in the lobby of the office building, with the fluorescent lighting as the perfect hospital prop.

• • •

So, given a not-so-productive partnership, what makes the pair of Austrian architects the “princes of Kings Road?” Viewed from the perspective of their collective life’s work, the answer is clear.

“We built Los Angeles together,” Schindler, played by actor John Nielsen, tells nurse Emma Rothstein, played by actress Heather Robinson. “We designed homes and buildings nobody had ever seen before. Before us, everything was crap. Cape Cod … Colonial … all unadulterated crap.”

The Kings Road house he designed and built was an experiment in communal living – a concept far ahead of its time. Neutra, played by actor Ray Xifo, chimes in, “The Kings Road house defines a new architectural language.”

As the outspoken one, Schindler has a few choice words about his former employer, Frank Lloyd Wright, calling him “a better publicist than architect.” He adds later on, “To be fair, Wright is not totally untalented.”

Schindler obviously worried his legacy, much more so than Neutra. “They’ll say I died in obscurity,” he mumbles. In an indication of how much of their relationship they were able to mend while in the hospital together, Neutra assures his friend from college, “No. I will see to it that your architecture will never be forgotten.”

Background & Professional Similarities

The play, which lasts slightly more than an hour, denotes the similarities and differences between them. Schindler arrived in the U.S. about a decade before Neutra, eventually building his iconic modernist masterpiece on Kings Road. The residence was a revolutionary, seminal experiment – a communal, indoor / outdoor living space for two couples. It established Schindler as a master of the modernist movement – and defined a completely new architectural language.

Schindler and Neutra's proposed design for the League of Nations Palace. (mage Courtesy of Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA)

Schindler and Neutra’s proposed design for the League of Nations Palace. (Image Courtesy of Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA)

The Austrian architects were born within a few miles of each other in Vienna. They became friends while students at the Vienna College of Technology, studying architecture together. Frank Lloyd Wright was their hero, and served as the inspiration both needed to immigrate to the United States. Once here, they each worked briefly for Wright.

Schindler and Neutra worked side-by-side during their five-year business partnership, which they grandly named the Architectural Group for Industry and Commerce. But they nearly always worked on separate projects. They cooperated on a single proposal as business partners working from the Kings Road house – the 1926 international architectural competition for the design of the League of Nations palace in Geneva. The Neutra-Schindler design was a daringly modern effort, cantilevered over the lake, featuring futuristic seaplane access. Requirements called for only five automobile parking spaces, but looking to the future, their design provided room for 500 cars.

They didn’t win one of the 27 prizes, but their design was chosen a year later to tour Europe in a German-sponsored show. Neutra’s relatives handling the submission accidentally omitted Schindler’s name from the paperwork, denying him credit for his work on the design – a big point of contention between the two architects. Schindler often accused Neutra of stealing his clients.

Another difference: Schindler never received commissions for large, career-defining works, whereas Neutra did. Neutra taught college courses and gave presentations at industry gatherings throughout his career, whereas Schindler did not. Time magazine put Neutra on the cover of its Aug. 15, 1949 issue.

Professional & Personal Differences

The former college friends saw their partnership end badly due to misunderstandings and cultural clashes, leaving them estranged for 23 years – mostly because the two were polar opposites professionally and personally. Schindler was an “artistic architect” who designed for creativity. Neutra was an “engineer architect” who designed for practicality. Schindler was unapologetically bohemian, an egotist who enjoyed throwing wild parties, and an unabashed womanizer. The staid Neutra was straight-laced and preferred harmonic consistency in both design and personal character.

Cultural clashes were pre-ordained when the free-spirited Schindlers invited the naïve Richard and Dione Neutra around 1925 to share their house. The Neutras arrived with an infant son in tow, setting the stage for culture clashes the size of glaciers, eventually culminating in the estrangement that was soon to follow.

Neutra and Schindler would go on to create many private, public and commercial properties throughout Southern California and elsewhere, putting Los Angeles on the permanent map of world design, though very much individually.

Remaining Performances

– Friday, September 25, 2015 – 8:00 PM
– Saturday, September 26, 2015 – 8:00 PM
– Sunday, September 27, 2015 – two performances – 4:00 PM and 7:00 PM
– Friday, October 2, 2015 – 8:00 PM
– Saturday, October 3, 2015 – 8:00 PM
– Sunday, October 4, 2015 – SOLD OUT
– General Admission tickets: $25

Location

The Neutra Institute Museum
2379 Glendale Boulevard
Silver Lake, CA 90039

 

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Bob Bishop

About Bob Bishop

Bob Bishop, a retired public relations manager and journalist, has been a very popular writer about local history for WEHOville. Bishop is returning to his home state of Mississippi early next month. You can contact him at bishopbob6@gmail.com

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One Comment

  1. CathyThu, Sep 24, 2015 at 8:10 am

    Another well written, interesting and informative piece by Bob Bishop. Thank you. I look forward to more……

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